New signings are exciting for a multitude of reasons, ranging from quality of the incoming player to the opportunity of a chance to shake things up. The new arrivals often come with a bedding period during which the player settles into a new environment and culture and adapts to a team’s playstyle.
Some players, though, are an exception to the rule. Some players bend the team to accommodate them and instantly deliver results on the pitch. Caroline Weir falls in this category.
The Scottish superstar joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2022 and has since become the first name on the team sheet. Weir’s impact is directly visible in the numbers and speaks to her role as a talismanic figure at the club. She has shouldered the attack and dragged Madrid out of a tough spot with her ingenuity multiple times throughout the season.
Her 24 goals and 14 assists amount to 45.2% of Real Madrid’s total goals this season. Of her 24 goals this season, four goals have been direct match-winners, while she has broken the deadlock for Madrid eight times and created another four opening goals. Her goals help alter the game-state in Real Madrid’s favour more often than not.
In this article we will make sense of Weir’s wizardry using data and TransferLab’s tools.
Positioning and role at Real Madrid
Real Madrid under Alberto Toril have settled in a 4-2-3-1 this season with Caroline Weir having free rein operating as the #10 in the setup. The left-footed attacking midfielder has been an integral part of the attack and the first line of defence for Madrid this season.
Her versatility and ability to interpret various roles while playing to her strengths makes her a valuable asset across the front line. Throughout the season so far Weir has been deployed at #10, operated from either flank and even slotted in as a striker for parts of the game.
Out of possession, Madrid morphs into a 4-4-2 mid to high block with focus on generating turnovers in the opposition half. Weir forms one half of the first line of pressure alongside the striker in a front two. She directs traffic into desired areas with her premeditated pressing runs and denies opposition time on the ball.
Las Blancas’s chance creation mechanisms are heavily reliant on two main things: 1) Effectiveness in generating and dominating transitions; and 2) Individual inventiveness for incisive passing and in 1v1 situations out wide for crosses.
The 27-year-old midfielder is an indispensable part of both these approaches. Her ingenuity on the ball allows Madrid to break through settled defences from the central corridor and serves as a precursor to generating crossing opportunities.
Only Wolfsburg average more through-balls than Real Madrid’s 1.24 per 90 across all major European leagues and their just over 20 crosses per game ranks them in third position in the league. The 27-year-old leads the chart for most through-balls for Madrid (7) while attempting third most crosses (70) for the team in white.
The Scot’s spatial awareness off the ball allows her to generate turnovers for her side higher up the pitch.
In Liga F, Real Madrid are only behind Barcelona in terms of shot-ending high turnovers (54) and goal-ending high turnovers (9), despite not having the most structured or intense high press. Individual players, especially the attacking duo in Madrid’s 4-4-2 off-the-ball structure, are key to the effectiveness of Madrid’s chance creation from turnovers.
Her heatmap suggests a high volume of actions originating in the half-spaces, particularly in the left half-space area. Weir has an affinity to float into these half-spaces areas starting from the nominal #10 role. Occupying these areas opens up a multitude of options for the Scot to either cross the ball into the box or act as a supporting foil for other players.
A direct consequence of Weir’s positioning is the addition of verticality for her side in possession. The Scottish midfielder’s diligent movements to operate in-between lines helps disrupt opposition’s defensive organisation while providing a forward passing option. This offers progression and penetration without the risk of turning over possession via offsides. With her ability to receive under pressure in tight spaces, Weir is often a target for forward passes.
In this example against Granadilla Tenerife during a buildup to an attacking sequence, Weir is stationed in the left half-space in-between the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines providing a vertical passing option during the move.
TransferLab’s tool puts the Scottish midfielder as one of the highest rated midfielders in the world. As can be seen by the following profiles, her attacking game outranks her peers in many facets.
She is in the top 10% for the quality of various on-ball actions when compared to her positional and league peers, highlighting her undeniable caliber on the ball. Her best is entangled with actions in the final third of the pitch like key-passes, passes into the box, through-balls, and quality of touches in the final third among others.
The high scores against the quality of on-ball actions suggests that the former Man City midfielder’s actions are geared towards increasing the intrinsic value of the possession sequence and making it likely to score. Indeed, her only weak areas are 1v1 defending and interceptions.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the defining traits of Caroline Weir as a player.
Weir is famed for her intricate passing and vision to break through the opposition but the Scot has a slight preference for carrying the ball rather than distributing it. Her driving runs from midfield serve multiple purposes: they break through the opposition press, help create chances, and progress play.
While not a voluminous ball carrier, Weir’s carries add a lot of value to her side in possession for a multitude of reasons from the position they originate from to the subsequent actions they result in.
The biomechanics associated with her ball carrying is the reason why she is so threatening with them. The long strides, close control, heavy touches into space, and speed of execution are augmented by a body shape angled to protect the ball and buy first contact in case of a tackle. This makes it difficult to claw back possession from the Scottish midfielder and allows for incredible balance on her carries while sustaining challenges and pressure during her carries.
Looking at her ball carries while under pressure from opposition, one can notice how often these carries move the ball in the forward direction closer to goal. Another striking factor on these carries is length of these ball carries. While the visualization lays focus on the carries that are longer than 10 yards to reduce clutter, the average length of all of her forward carries is almost 12 yards.
She is able to motor through the opposition’s lines maintaining balance on her carries while under pressure. This quality enables her to drive the ball from a deeper position providing penetration and progression. All of this naturally extends towards breaking opposition lines.
Looking at her press-breaking actions from the WSL 2020-21 season with Man City, we can notice the preference towards carrying the ball even under pressure and how her passing and ball carrying is able to advance possession into dangerous areas despite being under pressure.
While press-breaking adds more immediate value, circulating and retaining possession while under pressure from opposition is vital as well. Weir is able to buy her team some time when under pressure helping with ball retention. She withstands incoming challenges with her first touch and body orientation and allows for her team to switch the ball to the weaker side, thus advancing possession, not directly but ultimately. One step back to take two steps forwards.
We can look at her pressure releasing abilities as well. During the 2020-21 season, among all midfielders, Weir recorded the most press releasing actions helping her side manage opposition press and circulate the ball successfully. This ability to execute both adds to her value for the side.
Beyond being able to release pressure and break through it, Weir is extremely proficient with her ball carries. She ranks joint fifth in Liga F for most chance-creating carries in the Liga F (30), while she is only behind Mayra Ramirez (17) for carries ending with a key-pass (16) in slightly lesser minutes.
Close control and dribbling
Weir spent her childhood idolizing Zinedine Zidane. The shades of Zidane in her close control are unmissable. The wee girl with a Zidane shirt picked up his mannerism on the ball as well. Weir is a true wizard on the ball.
This first touch here takes a leaf straight out of Zidane’s playbook. The parallels of their caliber on the ball are incredible.
Weir is an excellent dribbler; TransferLab’s tool gives the quality of her dribbles the highest rating score of 100. Her ability in the tightest of spaces is immaculate and more often than not her dribbles help advance possession as well.
She incorporates a blend of hip movement and body orientation when receiving to shield the ball and combines these with measured touches into space and close control to beat incoming challenges. Her hip control and turn radius is as precise as a quartz watch, allowing her to evade incoming challenges and turn into space. This enables her to manifest space in a cul-de-sac.
Here is an example of the same against one of the most intense counter-pressing sides in world football, Barcelona. Weir uses her deft touches and sharp twists and turns to evade multiple incoming challenges, thus releasing pressure and supporting progression.
Weir has a tendency to receive the ball on her strong foot and uses her body to shield it and to angle her first touch away from an incoming challenge. Her slender frame belies her ability to protect the ball. While not a physically imposing figure, Weir understands angles and body orientation better than the average Jane.
Her effectiveness in her dribbles is reflected in the numbers as well. The former Manchester City star has the fourth highest take-on success rate in Liga F out of any player with more than 10 successful take-ons.
She has attempted 53 take-ons this season in Liga F, with an astonishing success rate of 71.7%, which is even more surprising given the position she plays and the zones she occupies on the pitch.
Then there are moments where she transcends everyone on the pitch and is just showing off with her skills. Moments like these are as much great for fans as they are flexing her technical excellence on the mere mortals surrounding her. They capture the imagination and make for great highlight reels.
Shot-creation and runs into the box
Ultimately Weir is famed for her creativity and goal-scoring prowess (with an inclination towards scoring belters in derbies). She has a lot of tools in her shot-creating repertoire: she can cross the ball, create from set-pieces, generate shots following take-ons, and thread the needle to break settled defences.
One one hand her chance creation stems from her impeccable vision to see non-existent passing lanes and the technical caliber to select and execute the right passes to a tee. The goalscoring, on the other hand, underlines the spatial understanding and timing of her movements to get in the right areas.
Focusing on her proclivity to play through-balls, we can take a look at her incisive passes this season. One can notice the passes targeted from the half space on the left hand side into the box, normally these passes are targeted to finding runners in behind, usually wingers for Real Madrid, and often precede the actual chance creating pass.
We can see how often she is able to thread that particular channel that is often crowded as well. In the example above, she showcases her first touch and turn on reception before pulling off a reverse ball perfectly, managing to wait for the passing lane to open up to slice the defence through for an assist.
She can also cross the ball really well, drifting into those half-space zones and finding targets in the box. The weight and timing on her passes hits the sweet spot more often than not, highlighting the technical caliber once again.
The Scottish ace is equally adept at creating as she is at scoring. While she has created 10 league goals for Las Blancas, she has scored 17 in the league and a further two in the Champions league, a personal record for her (in fact, it is the first season she has reached double figures for either, let alone both). Her goalscoring is a byproduct of multiple key traits but brings to forefront her excellent awareness in and around the box.
Weir’s crashing runs into the box are a big asset of her game. Real Madrid under Toril often sees midfielders crash the box during an attacking sequence and the Scot’s understanding and timing of the runs makes her adept at executing them. Weir often tracks her run with the attacking buildup, when she is not directly involved, and times her box-arrivals perfectly to meet the balls first time or pick up on loose deliveries inside the penalty box.
Weir’s awareness shines in these situations. The 27-year-old uses a combination of double movements and ‘non-movements’ to lose her marker inside the box and coordinates her movements with the striker. She plays off the striker, syncing her movements to the striker, occupying and attacking the vacant areas. In one of the goals above, she can be seen stopping her run in-between the attacking sequence to lose her marker and then attack the vacant space at the heart of the box to get on the end of the cutback.
While being at the right place in decisive moments stems from her awareness, the 27-year-old has a wand of the left foot and can let it rip from range. She has a variety of finishes in her repertoire, from toe-pokes to powerful strikes from tight angles to finessing the ball past the goalkeeper to belters from 30-yards out.
And sometimes, well quite often, she decides to grab headlines by scoring the most ridiculous goals on the biggest stages. She has a particular affinity for the derbies, Manchester United fans can attest to this.
Her shooting technique and hitting the ball on the run allows her to generate enough power and spin on the ball to caress it past the goalkeeper in an audacious fashion. This makes her adept on hitting the ball well from a stationary position as well, making her a threat from both direct and indirect set-pieces.
Weir has the third best chance creation rate from open-play in Liga F, averaging about 2.57 chances created per 90. All of this while averaging ~3 non-penalty shots per 90 as well. Her overall shot generating contribution from open-play (shots + chances created) ranks her seventh in the league and the highest for Real Madrid.
No player in Liga F has created more shot-creating actions than Weir (129) and she ranks second on the list for shot-creating actions from open-play (94). The 27-year-old has also created 17 shots from dead-ball situations and it’s this variety in her chance creation mechanism that make her an indispensable part of Madrid’s offensive scheme.
Amidst all the on-the-ball supremacy for the Scottish ace, it’s easy to miss her contributions off-the-ball. Weir works really hard off the ball providing ground coverage and intensity in chasing the ball down. Her understanding of the pressing angles and triggers, translating her on-ball smarts into off-ball smarts, allows her to Madrid’s pressing scheme from the front.
Her understanding of the marking assignments and reading of the passing lanes allows her to block out immediate passing options forcing teams into making decisions. Her spatial awareness allows her to adapt to her surroundings and anticipate the next moves, further helping with her positioning against the ball. This allows her to maintain access to passing options and her energy to then close down the ball carrier limits the time they get on the ball, thus increasing the possibility of a turnover.
It’s not always direct recoveries that Weir helps the team with, her curved runs, shadow blocking passing lanes to deny access to short passing options works in favor of Madrid trying to turnover possession in dangerous areas.
This anticipation combined with her quick burst of acceleration and intensity allows her to pounce on bad touches or misplaced passes and turn them into dangerous opportunities. Her contributions on the offensive end also stems from the defensive work the Scottish ace is able to execute high up the pitch. Her contributions off-the-ball thus have a two fold impact.
In football goals can often be an all encompassing metric, all the on-pitch actions are geared towards trying to play the ball into the opposition’s net. Hence it becomes paramount to understand how a player’s actions affect their team’s chance of scoring a goal.
We can utilize TransferLab’s ‘Goal Difference Added’ metric to understand how much a player’s actions increase or decrease their team’s probability of scoring per 90. Among all attacking midfielders, Caroline Weir ranks at the top with 0.38 goal difference added per 90 with her actions, underlining the intrinsic value and efficiency of her actions.
She is a consistent difference maker for Madrid, fulfilling various roles with the same level of technical brilliance. Her impact on and off-the-ball is hard to replicate. There is a rhyme and a reason behind every action and the efficiency of executing them makes her an indispensable part of the team and allows her to fulfill multiple roles.
Caroline Weir has spoken about her role at the club and how it has allowed her to express herself on the pitch. She has come in and made the team her own, and while the heavy reliance is perhaps worrying for Madrid, the Scot is consistently delivering on the promise of producing magical moments. That’s the hallmark of a world class player and Weir is the gold standard.
The Scottish savant has her name entangled with Madrid already. This is her best individual season in terms of her goal returns. She is now the club’s second highest goalscorer of all time and her first career hat-trick was scored for Madrid. Madrid and Weir have a symbiotic relationship, her quality has been a key determinant to Madrid’s ceiling and floor this season.
Image credit: IMAGO/NurPhoto